In a career that stretched from his 1948 art film Gauguin to the melancholy comedy Life of Riley, which premiered last month, Alain Resnais never lost his power to challenge and astonish. His 1955 Night and Fog is still the most haunting visual essay on the Holocaust. He brought modernism to movies with his first two features: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), which set the affair of a Frenchwoman and a Japanese man in the ashes of the A-bomb, and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), whose chic enigmas beguiled the intelligentsia; Jackie Kennedy screened it at the White House.
Mixing elegant tracking shots with elliptical cuts that merged past and present, he made sci-fi films (Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime), spiky family dramas (Providence) and the unclassifiable masterpiece Mon Oncle d’Amérique before turning to musicals (Same Old Song) and comedies (the amazing Wild Grass) that both subverted and enchanted. Resnais’s consistent theme was that we are prisoners of our memories, real or imagined. One thing we know: his films will never be forgotten.
This appears in the March 17, 2014 issue of TIME.